The 17th Annual Silver Bell Maritime Forum took place on June 8, 2017 at Current, Pier 59, Chelsea Piers. First to speak was ADM Charles Michel, Vice Commandant in the US Coast Guard. ADM Michel opened by referring to the amendment to the MLC, 2006 that makes provision for abandoned seafarers. This was achieved in 2014 through the cooperation of various groups, and ADM Michel commended SCI’s Douglas Stevenson, Director of our Center for Seafarers’ Rights, for his passion for the cause, saying that Doug’s efforts to convey the human arguments for such an amendment were crucial to its adoption. Doug Stevenson responded that this change in law happened as a result of the personal interest and leadership ADM Michel took in the issue.
ADM Michel then outlined a brief and engaging history of the USCG, from its founder Alexander Hamilton to the present day. This led into a presentation on the USCG’s strategic focus, emphasizing five areas: Arctic Strategy, Western Hemisphere Strategy, Energy Action Plan, Cyber Strategy, and Human Capital Strategy.
Detailing the Arctic Strategy, ADM Michel spoke about USCG’s efforts to improve public awareness through the Arctic Coast Guard Forum, also mentioning plans to invest in new heavy polar icebreakers. The Western Hemisphere Strategy involves anti-drug trafficking measures: the USCG’s interdictions at sea have a vital role protecting the US through combating transnational organized crime. Securing borders and safeguarding commerce are other important features of this strategy.
The the USCG’s Energy Action Plan focuses on improving awareness of energy and environmental issues, strengthening the workforce, and recapitalizing the inland fleet. USCG’s Cyber Strategy is focused on defending the cyber security of the marine industry, a challenge in today’s ever-changing times. This is vital for protecting infrastructure and enabling operations, however, and forms an increasingly important part of USCG’s work. Finally, USCG’s Human Capital Strategy focuses on the growth and development of the USCG workforce itself.
Next on the Maritime Forum agenda was an interview conducted by SCI Chair Richard du Moulin. He spoke to Angela Chao, Deputy Chairman of the Foremost Group shipping company. Angela is the youngest daughter of Dr. James S.C. Chao, the Chairman of Foremost Group, who received this year’s Silver Bell Award at the Seamen’s Church Institute’s 40th Annual Silver Bell Awards Dinner which took place on the evening of June 8th.
Ms. Chao spoke about her early love for shipping, how her father’s involvement in the industry helped her think of it as a way to see the world, providing a perspective on global trade, and a way to feel connected to the international community.
Ms. Chao discussed challenges too, although always with a positive attitude. She mentioned the need to address low numbers of women in shipping, and how the industry would benefit from being “vocal, unified and visible”.
Finally, Ms. Chao highlighted the importance of organizations such as SCI that talk about seafarers’ lives and what we owe to them. She also gave credit to ADM Michel and spoke of the USCG as “unsung hero”.
A panel of presenters followed next. The first presentation by Capt. Kirsten Martin, (Commanding Officer, USCG National Maritime Center) looked at US Requirements for Medical Certificates for merchant mariners. She underlined that the goal is not to deny employment, but to weigh each mariner’s ability to do the job with the safety risks if that mariner has health issues. She directed attendees to the USCG’s website (uscg.mil/nmc/medical) for further information.
The second panelist was Boriana Farrar, Vice President of the American P&I Club, presenting on “Pre-employment medical examinations: what are they, and why are they needed?” Ms. Farrar outlined the requirements and policies of the American Club on these examinations, also known as PEMEs. She also discussed the need for mandatory PEMEs for some countries, their selection criteria, and the validity of PEME clinics (a list of approved PEME clinics is available on the American Club website: american-club.com/page/approved-peme-clinics).
Dr. Rafael Lefkowitz, Assistant Professor in Yale Medical School’s Dept. of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, gave a presentation entitled “Occupational Medical Research on Seafarers: Why it is Needed and What is Being Done?” In this, he outlined his own research looking at the occupational health of seafarers and, newly, inland mariners, through individual questionnaires conducted both in person and online. He spoke of the role SCI plays in helping him with access to seafarers at Port Newark and inland mariners in Paducah, KY. Dr. Lefkowitz outlined the importance of this type of research for the shipping industry: if shipping companies and P&I clubs could help by providing de-identified baseline medical and demographic data, as well as data on occupational hazards, there is the potential for meaningful and cost-effective reduction of injuries, illness, medical repatriations, and diversions among their employees.
Finally, the Rev. David M. Rider, President & Executive Director of SCI, presented “Zero Self-Harm: Preventing Seafarers’ Suicides”. Here, he gave an overview of the problem of suicide among mariners, and the recent steps that SCI has been taking to address it. An e-learning module on how shoreside personnel can help reduce the risk of suicide among their employees is paired with a course offering. Some SCI staff have become official trainers for the two-day LivingWorks ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) course. This is the world’s leading suicide intervention workshop, and its scientifically-proven intervention model is used around the world. The course is open to anyone: more information can be found on the SCI website: seamenschurch.org/ASIST